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Smith, H.F. (1995). Analytic Listening And The Experience Of Surprise. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 76:67-78.

(1995). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 76:67-78

Analytic Listening And The Experience Of Surprise

Henry F. Smith

The analyst's experience of surprise, its relation to different models of analytic listening and its function in the analytic process is illustrated and explored through a series of clinical vignettes. Surprise is a crucial affective ingredient of the analyst's attention and data-gathering. It is multiply determined and inevitably reflects some discovery or rediscovery on the part of the analyst about both the patient and the analyst. In the dynamic tension of the analyst's listening there is always an interplay between expectation and surprise, as each new facet of the patient's conflictual organisation is revealed. Evenly-hovering attention entails the setting aside of conscious expectation and so maximises the potential for curiosity, surprise and discovery. The author describes the relation of surprise to transient identifications with the patient and to the interventions that result, the relation of surprise to the sense of the uncanny, and the shifts in the analyst's defensive organisation that allow for the experience of surprise. Several vignettes illustrate the interplay of the analyst's and the patient's psychologies and the manner in which surprise may alert the analyst to mutually-created resistances and enactments, which may appear to be discrete phenomena, but are in fact continuous processes, intrinsic to the work.

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